Convergence in Hispanic Heritage Month
(to read this letter in Spanish, click here)
CONVERGENCES IN HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH
President, North American Academy of the Spanish Language
Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15), is a period of commemoration, reflection and education and for many even celebration, if they so wish.
For the members of the American Academy of the Spanish Language (ANLE in its Spanish initials), however, it is one of many occasions throughout the year that invite our attention. I say many occasions because either through our labor in the vineyards of education, or our passion for the Spanish language, regardless of our respective professions, we are constantly involved with the Hispanic culture and language in the United States or abroad.
This year we observe the month at a time when three factors converge to make it a particularly significant commemoration: 1) Census data that forecast that by 2042 the U.S. will become a “majority minority” nation; 2) growing recognition that Spanish is the de facto second language of the country; and 3) increasing awareness of the need to protect and standardize Spanish language use in the nation.
At about 46 million (not including 4 million in Puerto Rico), Hispanics already comprise more than 15% of the population and are the fastest growing segment. The Census Bureau predicts that Hispanics will be 25% of the population by 2050, perhaps sooner, propelled largely by immigration. The Spanish language is constantly renewed.
Spanish is already our de facto second language. Corporate America understands this, spending billions of dollars, hiring bilingual employees and contracting specialized firms to reach Latino consumers. The federal government, too, expends billions of dollars to ensure that Hispanics receive vital information in both languages. And the General Services Administration offers a web-based service, www.GobiernoUSA.gov, that helps ensure high Spanish language standards in government materials.
This election year demonstrates more clearly than at any time that the Latino voter, reached through Spanish-and English-language communications, will be key. Upwards of 10 million Hispanic voters are expected to go to the polls in November. When Virginia Governor Tim Keane was mentioned as potential vice-presidential nominee, his Spanish language skills were cited as a valuable asset. Several Hispanic organizations – some new, some old – conduct programs to encourage naturalization and voter registration, literacy and turnout.
The issue that most concerns ANLE, however, is the standardization and protection of Spanish in the United States. Founded in 1973, ANLE is one of only two such Academies in countries where Spanish is not the official language, the other being The Philippines. The United States, furthermore, has the most diverse Spanish-speaking population in the world, making our Academy unique and presenting it with daunting challenges.
Federal, state and local government agencies, as well as advertisers, promoters, writers, publishers, journalists, educators and others confront the need to find words and expressions that comprise a “standard” Spanish that is understood by virtually all Spanish speakers in the United States. The Spanish language newscasts do a good job of finding that lingua franca, but others who use Spanish often come up short.
For members of ANLE, therefore, Hispanic Heritage Month is a reminder of our great Diversity. We believe that the many peoples represented in the United States are a source of immense strength, intellectual attainment and cultural richness. But they impose on all of us the need to find, use and protect our “American” Spanish to ensure that we retain high standards, that we can communicate effectively with citizens of the Spanish-speaking world, that we can participate effectively in the global economy.
Finally, we believe that immigrants should strive to learn English while retaining Spanish.